BOBBY KARL WORKS THE ROOM: Chapter 351
One night each year, the absolute best person to be in the world is a hit Nashville songwriter.
An entire ballroom fills with them. They gather for fellowship and to honor one another. A lucky few are saluted by their peers as the creators of the “Songs I Wish I’d Written.” And an even more select group gains induction into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.
That night this year was Sunday (10/17). The ballroom was at the Renaissance Hotel.
“A night like tonight puts me in my favorite place, surrounded by friends and songwriters,” said Frances Preston.
“The writers in this room have inspired me so much,” said Chris DuBois.
“I just really appreciate getting to be here with you guys,” said Taylor Swift.
“The music industry is just the friendliest industry in the world,” said Roger Murrah. “We just can’t get enough of each other.”
The main purpose of the gala was to induct Steve Cropper, Pat Alger, the late Paul Davis and the legendary Stephen Foster into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. But there were also extraordinary performances, heartfelt tributes and other accolades to bestow.
After greetings by Murrah and the NSAI’s Bart Herbison, NSAI president Steve Bogard took the podium. He spoke of the issues facing tunesmiths in this digital age, but added, “The best news of all is that the dream is still alive – the same dream that brought all of these songwriters tonight, here.”
He gave the President’s Choice Award to Mayor Karl Dean, the first city executive to convene a Mayor’s Music Council, rather than take Nashville’s status as an entertainment mecca for granted as his predecessors have.
Next came the Songs I Wish I’d Written portion of the event. Because of a tie, there were 11 this year instead of 10. Lady Antebellum and Josh Kear weren’t there to accept for “Need You Now,” nor were Kings of Leon for “Use Somebody.”
So first on stage were Rory Feek, Don Poythress and Wynn Varble for “A Little More Country Than That.” Next up were Jim Collins and David Lee Murphy for “Big Green Tractor.” Again in the absence of Lady A, co-writer Tom Douglas collected the trophy for “I Run to You.” Dennis Matkosky, Melissa Pierce and Jonathan Singleton won for “Red Light.” Bob DiPiero and a returning Douglas won for “Southern Voice.”
Jon Mabe wasn’t there, but Jessi Alexander was up and grinning for their massive pop hit “The Climb.” Miranda Lambert was absent, but co-writer Natalie Hemby took the stage to accept for “White Liar.” Liz Rose and Taylor Swift embraced before gathering their award for “You Belong with Me.”
Douglas returned, this time with Allen Shamblin for “The House That Built Me.” It was also named NSAI’s Song of the Year. “I’ve never felt more honored to be part of this community than I have in the past six months,” said Shamblin. “So many of you have written, called, emailed and texted me [from] the songwriting community.” “You feel so small at a moment like this,” added Douglas.
Swift retook the stage as the winner of Songwriter-Artist of the Year (for the third time in four years). “I discovered this town called Nashville where they tell the coolest stories in the most magical ways,” she reminisced. “You’ve been wonderful to me. And I’m having a blast telling stories.” She’s off to Europe today.
For co-writing “This Ain’t Nothin,’” “Then” and “Welcome to the Future,” DuBois won the 2010 NSAI Songwriter of the Year prize.
Murrah presided over the 40th annual Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame ceremony. He recognized iconic pop songwriter Jeff Barry in the audience, as well as the Hall’s development director Jeff Skillen, publicist Jennifer Bohler, announcer Bill Cody, event director Mark Ford and production coordinator Erika Wollam Nichols. When he asked for recognition for the recently deceased Hall of Famer Hank Cochran, the crowd responded with a spontaneous standing ovation.
Sponsor AT&T’s Gregg Morton spoke of Internet piracy and vowed to the crowd, “AT&T is with you.”
Layng Martine Jr. presented the Mentor Award to Frances Preston. She knew she was getting it. What she didn’t know was that henceforth it is to be named in her honor. “As challenging and tough as our business is, it is kinder and gentler because of you,” said Martine. “You mentored our city.”
“I treasure every moment of what was, for me, the best job in the whole world,” responded the retired BMI chief. “It’s been a privilege to be your champion and cheerleader. Never, ever, forget that it all begins with a song.”
Tamara Saviano, who won a Grammy for producing a 2004 Foster tribute CD, presided over her musical hero’s induction. “Most of the songwriters in this room are standing on the bones of Stephen Foster,” she said. Foster (1826-1864) is regarded as America’s first professional popular songwriter. Mockingbird Sun sang a medley that included “O Susanna,” “Beautiful Dreamer” and “My Old Kentucky Home.” Jim Lauderdale performed “Hard Times Come Again No More.” Vanderbilt/Blair professor Dale Cockrell accepted. “Ladies and gentlemen, Stephen Foster’s music has been performed more than any other songwriter in the world,” Cockrell said. “Stephen Foster is the most important composer in the history of the world….our American genius.”
Paul Overstreet presided over the induction of his friend Paul Davis, who died in 2008. Then Fred Knobloch led Ed Seay, Kyle Lehning, Ronn Price, Anthony Martin and Jennifer Kimball through a medley that included “Cool Night,” “I Go Crazy,” “Ride ‘Em Cowboy,” “65 Love Affair,” “Bop” and “Sweet Life.” Tanya Tucker sang “Love Me Like You Used To,” splendidly. Paul’s son Jonathan Davis accepted.
Tony Brown did the honors for Steve Cropper. “The fact that he chose Nashville to live in is a blessing to all of us,” he stated. Amen to that. “I’ve never been so scared in all my life,” said young Tyler Bryant before tackling “Midnight Hour” and “Green Onions.” T. Graham Brown wrapped his soulful pipes around “Dock of the Bay.”
Cropper recalled coming to Nashville in 1984 when Razzy Bailey had a country hit with “Knock on Wood.” He met his wife Angel here and stayed. His 90-year-old father Hollis Cropper was in the house. “I shined shoes; I set up pins in a bowling alley; I mowed yards; I saved $17 to buy a guitar from Sears,” Steve recalled. “Dad said, ‘If you learn to play it, I’ll buy you a real guitar.’” He did, and he did.
Allen Reynolds inducted Pat Alger, who was NSAI Songwriter of the Year in 1991, ASCAP Songwriter of the Year in 1992 and is a two-term past president of NSAI. “One way or another, we’ve all benefited from his presence in this town,” said Reynolds. Jimmy Wayne ably sang “Going Gone,” “True Love” and “Small Town Saturday Night.” Garth Brooks did “Unanswered Prayers,” “That Summer” and “The Thunder Rolls.”
“Alger understands the craft,” said Brooks. “Just to capture that moment, that’s what Pat Alger does….I can’t imagine my career without you, Pat.”
“I know years from now when I’m in my rocking chair and not all there, this evening’s going to shine through real bright,” said Alger.
I guess. How would you like to stand up there and be applauded by the talent in that room? Among those glimpsed were Billy Sherrill, Billy Burnette, Bill Anderson, Al Anderson, Deborah Allen, Jerry Foster, Jerry Chesnut, Jerry Salley, Jim Weatherly, Jim Rooney, Bobby Braddock, Bob McDill, Bob Regan, Righard Leigh, Dickey Lee, Tom Shapiro, Thom Schuyler (who wrote our theme song “Sixteenth Avenue”), Tim Nichols, Ted Harris, Larry Henley, Lari White & Chuck Cannon, Liz Hengber, Lee Roy Parnell, Dave Gibson, David Malloy, Dennis Morgan, Joey Martin, Joe Weed, Jon Pardi (newly signed to Capitol), Freddie Hart, Frank Myers, Dallas Frazier, Gary Burr, Matraca Berg, Bonita Hill, Phil Everly, Kenny & Corky O’Dell, Curly Putman, Kristyn Osborn, Wayne Carson, Wayland Holyfield, Georgia Middleman, Craig Wiseman, Bucky Wilkin, Hugh Prestwood, Rory Bourke and Guy Clark.
We dined on beef tenderloin, julienned vegetables and mashed potatoes, with cheesecake and/or pumpkin mousse for dessert. The room had a draped ceiling with hanging garlands and lanterns. The stage was set with a glittering backdrop of tiny lights that looked like celestial stars.
The schmoozing fabulons were numerous beyond numerous – Ron Stuve, Ron Cox, Ron Samuels, Rob McNeilly, David Maddox, David Preston, David & Susana Ross, Dan Bryant, Del Bryant, Drew Alexander, Jewel Coburn, Barry Coburn, Melanie Howard, Perry Howard, Linda Edell Howard, Don Light, Don Cusic, Mark Wright, Mark Bright, Jason Morris, Judy Harris, Congressman Jim Cooper, John Esposito, Jo Walker-Meador, Pat Higdon, Pete Fisher, Paul Lucks, Andrew Parks, Michael Peterson (the Kobalt guy, not the singer-songwriter), Will Byrd, Dwight Wiles & Diana Johnson, Diane Pearson, Whitney Daane, Woody Bomar, Barbara Orbison, Rose Drake, Rita Allison, Sherry Bond, Lisa Sutton, Ed Salamon, Sherrill Blackmon, Stacy Widelitz, Terry Wakefield, Walter Campbell, Tinti Moffatt, Celia Froelig, Karen Oertley, Dan Hill and Troy Tomlinson.
“This is always a magical evening,” observed Roger Murrah. And it was.